Creative Lives — From their bedrooms to a home studio, ceramicists Liv and Dom Cave-Sutherland talk to us about their evolution
Working from your home studio every day is the dream, and having someone to share it with is the cherry on the cake. That’s not far from reality for creative duo, twins and business partners, Liv and Dom Cave-Sutherland. Nestled away in their East Sussex-based studio, the pair have created a recognisable brand from the ground up. Focusing predominantly on the nude female form, they have a catalogue of iconic incense holders, jewellery and ceramic homeware. Liv and Dom’s story began straight out of university, having completed a BA in Illustration at Bournemouth, they began selling some of their earlier pieces at markets – trying to make ends meet. Five years on, they have started to take on commissions from the likes of Netflix, Whistles, The Wing and Monica Vinader. We spoke to the pair about life in Lewes, finances and how their distinctive style came into existence.
Liv and Dom Cave-Sutherland
Co-founders of Liv & Dom (2015–present)
Lewes, East Sussex
Netflix, Whistles, The Wing, Monica Vinader, Slowdown Studio, Earl of East London
BA Illustration at Arts University Bournemouth (2012–2015)
Dom (left) Liv (right) in their studio, photography by Lola Thomas
What do you both do?
We run a brand called Liv & Dom through which we make and sell functional ceramic homewares, wearables and prints. We also work on client commissions, usually we’ll have one or two of these a month. We also lead monthly clay workshops in London and host for private events, most recently for fashion brands Vince and Renli Su. This has become a larger part of our practice lately. Everything we do is under our brand – centred on the nude female form.
What does a typical working day look like and where does it happen?
We get up around 8.30am, have breakfast, feed our cat and chat about what we have to do that particular day – as well as answer some emails. We start work around 10am, in our home studio. It varies daily what we’re up to. It could be a making day where it’s clay all day, a glazing day, an ideas day or a day where we’re both working on commission pieces. We have a quick lunch break whenever breakfast wears off, and then go straight back to work. If we have any orders to send, this is usually done in the afternoon. The end of our workday can be anywhere between 3pm and 11pm – it depends what we’re doing.
In what way do you collaborate? What are some core responsibilities that you delegate to one another?
Liv is usually in charge of social media, making slab work – for example, jewellery, dishes, pots, as well as illustration work. I’m in charge of ordering materials, making incense holders and doing our taxes. We both manage the website, reply to emails, maintain the studio, pack and send orders plus lead workshops.
Dom working in the studio, photography by Lola Thomas
What is the least enjoyable part of going freelance?
The blending of work life into personal life is real, it can be hard to get proper breaks, especially at busy times like Christmas. The biggest thing I think is being personally responsible for every aspect of your brand. If something goes wrong you can’t play the blame game, it’s always you. That brings an element of pressure, but it’s definitely manageable.
What has been the most exciting project you’ve worked on?
Probably a small promotional image we did for Netflix’s Sex Education. We were invited to the premiere of the show which was really cool. It’s nice to see where your work can take you!
You’re probably best-known for your incense holders; how do you come up with new ideas for these?
The incense holder was actually a man to begin with, with the idea in mind that the incense would be the penis. Dom claims to have had the idea instantaneously when waking up one day. We were working on a project based on the British seaside as we were in Bournemouth so had a lot of semi-nude and nude figures in our work. It just so happened that when we made the incense holder into a lady, she was more popular, and it coincided with a time where art including the female form was gaining popularity – so we went with it.
Promotional work for Netflix’s Sex Education
Promotional work for Netflix’s Sex Education
You’re both ceramicists and illustrators, how do you split your time up between these two passions? Do you prefer one over the other at all?
The illustration work really bleeds into our ceramics practice; we do a lot of our illustrating onto a clay surface. If an illustration commission pops up we’ll do it, but we don’t often do self-directed illustration work. Ceramics make up the bulk of our income. If we had to give up one it would probably be illustration.
Tell us about working from Lewes and your thoughts on the idea that you have to live in a big city in order to establish yourself?
We love living and working in Lewes, but we can easily access London for work if we need to (we do this one to three times a month). Living really close to a young city like Brighton as well is part of why we live here. Most of our friends are there and it’s good for going out. Most of our time is spent in Lewes though and we really much prefer the slower pace of life, and the close proximity to nature. We were living with our Mum in another small town in Sussex when we were establishing ourselves and it was tough, but with social media reach you don’t need to worry about location too much. It does depend on what you’re doing, but if you’re fully freelance and working from home, location shouldn’t hinder you.
“With social media reach you don’t need to worry about location too much. If you’re fully freelance and working from home, location shouldn’t hinder you.”
What tools do you use for your work?
For ceramics we have a small electric Skutt kiln in our home studio, that you can plug into the wall like a toaster – it’s the most important tool we have. We use a slab roller that’s like a large pasta maker for making our flat pieces and for slab building work. We have lots of pottery tools, too many to name!
We use gouache paint for all of our illustration work.
How important do you think it is to land on a particular style as a creative?
Really important. We won’t follow artists on Instagram if the style is changing every few posts; it seems a little unprofessional. Experimenting early on is key to landing on a style. After that discovery period, you want your work to be recognisable, and for clients or customers to know what you can offer them. Our style has changed quite a lot in the last five years, but very gradually, so we don’t alienate our audience.
Nude women Incense burner products
Functional homeware products
How I Got Here
How do you think your upbringing influenced your choice of career?
We were encouraged to be creative by our Mum who is also a very creative person. She loves sewing, upcycling, interior design and photography so that definitely rubbed off on us. We always had little projects on the go as kids, we made new outfits for our toys, tried making an animation about a family of mice and made a series of clay bunnies all in different poses. I think we naturally wanted to be making, but our Mum supported us and got excited about what we did which made us do more.
Do you feel you need formal education for what you do?
Yes and no. Art degrees are often self-led courses at the end of the day, with lots of independent study. There aren’t classes like ‘how to draw well’, and we didn’t have access to a kiln so did a six-week course in ceramics then just taught ourselves after that. The business side of things we learned on the job. The main thing that formal education gave us was time, time to gather our ideas to create our business without the pressure of adult life.
After graduating what did you both do for work?
We started doing markets and selling online straight after university in 2015, we stopped running the business from Dom’s childhood bedroom in January 2019, so it was definitely not smooth sailing and quite a long process to be able to both live off the profits.
“We stopped running the business from Dom’s childhood bedroom in January 2019, so it was definitely not smooth sailing.”
What have been your biggest learnings with making money as a creative?
We’ve learned that time is money. Figuring out how much time you’re spending on a piece is pretty vital, and comparing it to if you were going to a ‘real job’ and doing the same hours. For time consuming large pieces you can end up doing the maths and realise you’re asking for less than minimum wage. This is bad for very obvious reasons.
How important have you found social media and self-promotion in your work?
We wouldn’t have a business without our Instagram! Nearly all of our customers, clients and commissions come from our social media. We were lucky starting our instagram in 2014 as I think algorithms have made it a little more tricky to organically grow a good following now.
Work for Fabienne Chapot SS1
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to an emerging creative wanting to get into the same line of work?
Keep well-informed about other artists you admire, as well as shops, markets, and magazines that are related to your craft. Find out what is trendy, even just a single colour, put a new spin on these trends (or be extremely good at something totally original). Do not make something you’ve seen before (or you’ll end up somewhere like our boob pot folder of shame.) Get social media, engage with the community, post often, be patient. Make what you love but also listen to your audience. We had to make a few things we weren’t overly keen on that our social media followers really liked whilst things were gearing up for us.
Credit: Cover photo by James Loveday.